“I’ve al­ways had sto­ries in my head”

With 230 nov­els to her name and still count­ing, pro­lific ro­man­tic sus­pense au­thor Nora Roberts is well-versed on men, misog­yny and make-believe

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - In­ter­view by SASKIA TILLERS

She has 230 books to her name and is still count­ing. Ro­mance nov­el­ist Nora Roberts re­flects on her pro­lific ca­reer and why she’ll al­ways stand up for her work.

On a win­ter’s af­ter­noon in 1979, Nora Roberts dis­cov­ered her life’s pur­pose. A bliz­zard had been rag­ing out­side for days, and a then 29-year-old Roberts, along with her two young sons, was des­per­ately try­ing to ward off cabin fever. A me­tre of snow at the front door kept them con­fined to the house, and she was quickly “go­ing mad”. But once the boys had fallen asleep, Roberts picked up a pen, and be­gan to write.

“I’d al­ways had sto­ries in my head; I thought every­one did,” she tells Stel­lar. “So I de­cided I’d just take one of them out and start writ­ing it down to en­ter­tain my­self, to keep sane. And I fell in love. Why hadn’t I been do­ing this all along?”

Forty years and 230 books later, at 68, Roberts is ar­guably the most pro­lific ro­man­tic sus­pense writer ever. In 2007,

Time mag­a­zine in­cluded her as one of only two au­thors in its 100 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple In The World is­sue, and Roberts’s nov­els have col­lec­tively spent a to­tal of 1133 weeks on The New York Times best­seller list – that’s equiv­a­lent to 20 con­sec­u­tive years of weekly best­sellers. Un­der the pseu­do­nym J.D. Robb, Roberts has also writ­ten a series of fu­tur­is­tic crime nov­els (the 50th will be re­leased next year).

In spite of her im­mense suc­cess ( Forbes es­ti­mates Roberts is worth $US390 mil­lion), she lives a low-key life in Mary­land, USA, and rel­ishes the pri­vacy a small town al­lows her. One of her sons lives around the cor­ner, and in a meet-cute wor­thy of a novel, Roberts met her sec­ond hus­band, carpenter Bruce Wilder, when she hired him to build some book­shelves. “He did a good job, so I kept him,” she says, laugh­ing.

Roberts never went to univer­sity, never took a sin­gle writ­ing work­shop, and in­stead cred­its her father for fos­ter­ing her love of nar­ra­tives. Once she had her own chil­dren, Roberts found her­self de­vour­ing Har­lequin ro­mances. But later, when she tried her hand at what she terms “Ro­mance with a cap­i­tal R,” she made sure to write strong, feisty hero­ines who could take care of them­selves.

“I’ve al­ways tried to show my sons that women are not to be pi­geon­holed,” she says. “In a lot of the cat­e­gory books that I was read­ing, the hero­ines were sort of eas­ily dom­i­nated. That didn’t sit well with me, and it wasn’t the kind of heroine I wanted to write.”

While Roberts later shed the cap­i­tal R ti­tle, opt­ing in­stead for “ro­man­tic sus­pense”, she’s had plenty of prac­tice ig­nor­ing the naysay­ers and lit­er­ary crit­ics who shun ro­mance. “I stopped fight­ing that bat­tle a long time ago,” she sighs. “You can’t change [the misog­yny], you just have to stand up for your work. Writ­ers who write with­out gen­der – there’s a rea­son. I hear from women who say, ‘My hus­band won’t read any­thing writ­ten by a woman, so I handed him a J.D. Robb book, and he thought it was by a guy. Af­ter he’d read five of them I told him it was re­ally Nora Roberts.’”

Her suc­cess hasn’t been with­out its strug­gles. In 1998, Roberts won a law­suit against writer Janet Dai­ley, who had pla­gia­rised sev­eral of her nov­els (the set­tle­ment was do­nated to lit­er­acy groups).

Ear­lier this year, Roberts filed her sec­ond law­suit for pla­gia­rism, this time against Brazil­ian writer Cris­tiane Ser­ruya. “It’s a punch in the gut,” says Roberts. “They’ve de­cided, ‘Well, I’ll take that and call it mine,’ but you can’t come in my home and steal my stuff, and you can’t come into my books and steal my words. It’s the same thing, it’s still theft. It’s a very emo­tional thing be­cause those words came out of you, you’ve laboured over them.”

Does she ever worry that her seem­ingly end­less sup­ply of story ideas will dry up? Roberts laughs off the sug­ges­tion. “Oh, ideas are the easy part! I can’t imag­ine what I would do with the peo­ple in my head if I didn’t sit down and try to tell their sto­ries.”

Un­der Cur­rents by Nora Roberts (Ha­chette, $29.99) is out now.

TRUE RO­MANCE (from top) Au­thor Nora Roberts at a book sign­ing in her home­town of Mary­land in the US in 2012; with her hus­band Bruce Wilder at a gala din­ner ear­lier this year.

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